Herald on MP staffing

The Herald reports:

A New Zealand First MP is the subject of a complaint to Parliament’s Speaker over the employment of a person who lives at the same property.

Queenstown resident David Simpson has raised questions about the nature of the relationship between MP Denis O’Rourke and , whom Mr O’Rourke employed after the 2011 election. MPs are not allowed to employ their partner, husband or wife in or outside Parliament.

A spokeswoman for Parliamentary Service, the in-house watchdog, confirmed Speaker of the House David Carter had “referred an issue to us and we are looking at it, but that’s between us and the Speaker’s office. I’m not going to say any more than that”.

She said there was nothing in its files to indicate that Mr James was Mr O’Rourke’s partner.

Living at the same property doesn’t mean they are partners. I’ve lived with many people who are not partners.

There is probably no one single test for whether or not two people are partners. Obviously one aspect is whether or not the relationship is platonic. But I imagine that the best way to assess is to use the same criteria that WINZ uses in determining the same thing. I’d look at stuff such as whether they go out to functions together, do they cook for each other, shop together. 

Mr O’Rourke also said rules around MPs employing their spouses or partners were “something we looked at very closely after the election … . and we understand the situation”.

“Stephen is definitely not my partner, he lives at a separate address in Christchurch.”

Mr O’Rourke and Mr James were listed as living at the same address in the 2011 electoral roll, but Mr James is listed as living at a separate address in last year’s roll.

However, Herald investigations reveal both addresses apply to the same property – Mr O’Rourke’s home. …

On Tuesday Mr James emerged from the Mt Pleasant property to check the mailbox. He was later seen inside the property but refused to answer the door.

Mr O’Rourke later confirmed Mr James lived at the same property.

“Yes, there’s a flat attached to my home with separate bedroom and kitchenette and an ensuite and so on. It’s separate accommodation.”

Online records show Mr O’Rourke’s property is listed as a single dwelling. Mr O’Rourke later said Mr James lived in “a room that’s been separated from the house and used as a bedsit”.

“It’s not a formal subdivision … I did upgrade it a couple of years ago and that’s the same time that we got the separate letterbox.”

He reiterated that he and Mr James were not partners. “We’re deliberately not partners and whatever it takes to convince people we’re not partners, that’s what we’ll do. We don’t intend to be partners, we’ve agreed not to be partners, we don’t do the things that partners do, so we’re not partners.”

I don’t think O’Rourke’s comments help him. Saying that we are deliberately not partners is a strange thing to say. If someone is not your partner, or someone you have a relationship with, then you don’t need to make a deliberate decision not to be partners. When I have a flatmate, we never have a discussion about being partners or not – because there is no need.

So O’Rourke’s comments do not help him. I don’t know if James and O’Rourke are partners but a friend tells me they have been seen out together regularly around Wellington. Again that doesn’t mean they are partners – it is not a single test. But O’Rourke’s comments and the changing of the addresses does make it look like they do have some sort of relationship and have deliberately tried to structure it so James can be employed.

And regardless of the legality, I think it is unwise to hire as a staff member someone whom you live with. The complications are significant if something goes wrong. How do you reprimand them if they stuff up, if you are living with them?

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